Easter is a celebration of Christ’s love for the world and a reminder of our calling to love others. Americans have always sought meaningful ways to express their love in service to others. Just as Americans value effective business models, we value effective charitable models. Indeed, the most famous early colonial speech was John Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity.”
Last month I wrote about philanthropic efforts to build networks among nonprofits and leverage relationships to solve problems like homelessness. Networking is no less important among faith-based charities.
In the 1970s, Virgil Gulker was working as a social worker in Holland, Michigan, and he grew increasingly concerned about the lack of coordination among churches and Christian charities. He recognized the desire among Christians to get involved in their communities and help the poor, but he saw the need for a better support network to facilitate that involvement.
Dr. Gulker founded Love in the Name of Christ, or Love INC, in 1977 to bring together churches and ministry groups to meet the needs of people around them. Love INC’s mission is “To mobilize local churches to transform lives and communities in the Name of Christ.” Today there are 157 Love INC affiliates in 30 states with 8,600 partner churches and 9,200 partner charities. Love INC reports that they mobilized 100,000 volunteers to meet almost 1.7 million needs last year. They describe their work as follows:
A Strategy to help churches come together to help their neighbors in need
A Partnership of local churches, that links Christian volunteers and ministries to people in need
A Movement of Christian churches working together to show God's Love to those in need
A Model for implementing Christ-like relational ministries that transforms lives - both those being served and those who serve
A Method for mobilizing local church congregations to live out the two great commandments of loving God and loving their neighbor
A Network of affiliates supporting and encouraging each other
A Collaboration between local churches and their community (agencies, ministries, government, schools) to provide effective help for the disadvantaged
A Vehicle that helps churches, collectively and individually, fulfill their biblical mandate to reach out to their community
My own interest in charitable networks has grown from my service on the board of a faith-based network organization called the One Another Foundation in Puyallup, Washington. The foundation was launched a few years ago by Bill Bowers, who had worked for years building youth mentoring organizations in the community. Seeing the potential of the 19,000 churchgoers in 57 congregations in Puyallup, Bill started the foundation to raise awareness of needs in the community and connect people to service opportunities in organizations like the local Food Bank, a homeless shelter program, a low-income housing group, and a ministry for single mothers.
Today, the little foundation is growing and people are getting involved in exciting ways. In 2013, 450 volunteers got involved in almost 200 separate volunteer projects thanks to the foundation. They built dressers for families in need, served lunch to seniors, and went to men and women living on the street with cups of hot chocolate and opportunities to pray together.
Two years ago, Bill and a fellow board member and I took a road trip to Wenatchee, Washington, to learn about Serve Wenatchee Valley, which uses the Love INC referral model. Serve Wenatchee Valley was founded by local pastors in 2001 after they had been meeting and praying together for their community since 1996. They saw the need for someone to organize the division of labor among nonprofits and churches in the community. Today Serve Wenatchee Valley has 42 partner churches and 17 ministry partners such as YoungLife and the Salvation Army. Led by a visionary pastor named Bob Shepard, the organization has dedicated itself to:
“Resourcing local pastors and ministry leaders through monthly luncheons, retreats, seminars, study groups and prayer support.
“Helping people in need through a compassionate, prayerful non-judgmental atmosphere in our clearinghouse. Needs for food, clothing, furniture, rent, utilities and more are addressed through our LOVE INC referral model as we help churches help people help themselves.
“Serving our Community through special worship services and need-based events. We understand that people will not care about what you know until they know that you care.”
The Serve Wenatchee Valley board consists of business leaders, pastors, and ministry volunteers. Serve Wenatchee Valley is building bridges between churches and other community institutions, including local government.
Charitable networks like Love INC, Serve Wenatchee Valley, and the One Another Foundation have the advantage of directing the separate interests of various charities and religious bodies toward shared community goals. Organizations can do many things on their own, but they can’t do everything. They need each other.
Next time we see a need in our communities, a new organization may not be the right answer. More likely, we can find solutions by bringing together existing charitable groups and houses of worship to make a real difference.